- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 39th Annual Legislative Conference opens today at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, and the event still stands as one of the most important networking hot spots for professionals.

An estimated 20,000 people are expected to attend the conference, which melds ordinary citizens with business leaders, elected officials, intellectuals, celebrities and media.

“This event will have many high-profile people, but it is for the average citizen. It’s for the people who these policies really affect,” said Simone-Marie Meeks, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses. “It’s a marvelous experience, to be in the presence of seeing up close and personal members of [the] caucus, everyone gets to make their argument and ask questions.”

Mrs. Meeks, senior policy associate at the New York Academy of Medicine, is the wife of Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, who represents New York’s 6th Congressional District. They’ve been married for 12 years. The main goal of the spouses is to raise scholarship money for young leaders interested in getting involved on the political scene, she said.

This year the conference features more than 70 workshops and seminars running the gamut of current issues facing Congress and the White House - from the environment and the economy to health care and urban affairs. There will also be solution-oriented discussions on global and domestic security. Organizers report there will be an ongoing series throughout the conference called “Emerging Young Leaders,” bringing together leaders under 40 to discuss and debate education, health care and other policies.

Also on the schedule is Thursday’s annual breakfast at So Others Might Eat, an interfaith, community-based organization in Washington helping those in need through clothing, meals, and health care.

SOME’s Web site describes its work as “restoring hope and dignity one person at a time.” Last year, the organization provided almost 400,000 hot meals and its medical clinic provided 7,000 patient services.

Once these immediate needs are fulfilled, SOME furthers sustainable support through job training, housing assistance and addiction treatment.

The Rev. John Adam, president of SOME, told The Times this summer, “The most important thing we do is move people off the streets and help them become independent.”

The CBC conference will partner with SOME to provide on-site health screenings and clothing distribution - and members of Congress and their spouses will be serving food.

The purpose of the breakfast is to demonstrate to Americans in need that “Congress hasn’t forgotten them,” Mrs. Meeks said.

“They want to help people in poverty and communicate what’s happening in office,” Mrs. Meeks said.

This year, as America’s economy sputters toward recovery, SOME’s funding dwindled. The spouses contacted their sponsors for further funding and raised enough money for SOME to continue its services at full capacity. This year marks the fourth year of the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses-SOME partnership to give back to the D.C. community.

The conference also includes social events, such as the Black Party Experience on Thursday featuring a fusion of music, art and performance, including hip hop artists, DJ battles and break dancers.

Mrs. Meeks said she’s most excited about the Macy’s fashion show on Friday, “A Tribute to Progess.”

“This year is going to be the ‘Runway to Reality,’ with clothes you can actually afford,” she said. “It’s not just a fashion show or a performance. It’s about being a part of a movement to help students receive money for college through ticket proceeds.”

Tickets for the fashion event are $100 with all proceeds benefitting the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses Scholarship Program. The spouses’ programs have given away $9 million in scholarship money.

The show will include a cocktail-hour reception and the Howard University Jazz Ensemble rocking out an exclusive collaboration with renowned jazz composer and drummer T.S. Monk (son of the late jazz pianist ,Thelonious Monk). There will also be special exhibits of important black leaders from a wax museum, photos from the NAACP archives, members of Congress modeling Macy’s clothes, and more.

“The event this year is going to be different from other years because there is young leadership in government right now,” said Mrs. Meeks. “We have people focused on policy and system change unlike any other time, in my lifetime at least. We’re excited about ambitious initiatives and look forward to emerging leaders networking, listening to citizens, and seeing change begin.”

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